‘ALL HIS LITTLE IMPUDENCE OF COURAGE’: SAM, THE QUOTIDIAN HERO
Of all the characters in LOTR, Sam Gamgee has to be my favourite because he comes from very lowly beginnings and reaches great heights and recognition, not through great feats of arms – though he does have his moments – or wizard wisdom, but through love.
What follows are just a few occasions that I think important in illustrating Sam’s development.
Sam Gamgee is a gardener who is mad about old stories, much to the derision of his fellow Hobbits. He thinks all he wants to do is to meet Elves but once he’s met Gildor inglorion and Company in the Shire whilst fleeing with Frodo and the Ring,he feels he has something else to do before the end.
One of my most favourite momentsa in the whole of LOTR is, whilst approaching Amon Sul, Merry asks: ‘Who was Gil-galad?’ and a voice pipes up: ‘Gil-galad was an Elven King’ that turns out to be Sam, which is another indication that Sam the gardener has more about him than meets the eye. Sam knows a lot more of Middle-earth’s history than the educated little gentlehobbit, Merry.
But when one wishes for more than a simple life, one has to take the consequences too. The Wild isn’t only filled with brave heroes and magical Elves. One also encounters trolls and orcs, and Sam proves his mettle when, in Moria, he kills his first orc in the Chamber of Mazarbul. Tolkien says the expression on his face would have made Ted Sandyman pause for thought, that soft Sammy could do such things.
The Pass and Tower of Cirith Ungol test Sam in many ways. After arriving at the conclusion that he’s in the same Story as Beren, alone he goes on to fight his own fear by severly injuring Shelob with ‘all his little impudence of courage’ (p.728), then deciding to take the Ring and Galadriel’s Star-glass from Frodo’s supposedly dead body and to continue with the Quest on his own. Discovering that Frodo isn’t dead, Sam goes on to rescue him from the tower of Cirith Ungol, largely helped by the orcs’ own in-fighting, but none-the-less a superlatively heroic deed.
Leaving the Tower with Frodo
‘Sam drew out the elven-glass of Galadriel again. As if to do honour to his hardihood, and to grace with spleandour his faithful brown hobbit-hand that had done such deeds, the phial blazed forth…with a dazzling radiance like lightning…’ p.915)
One of the marks of heightened sensibility in Tolkien’s Middle-earth is the ability to make poetry and it is during this situation that Sam reaches his poetic height by singing off-the-cuff ‘In Western lands beneath the Sun’ which is his song of defiance against despair and one of the best poems tolkien ever wrote, both for its sentiment and simplicity.
Without Sam’s help Frodo would never have made it across Mordor to Mount Doom, up which eventually Sam has to carry Frodo to reach the Sammath Naur where the Ring was forged.
When the Ring has finally gone into the Fire, and Sam and Frodo are surrounded by rivers of molten lava, Sam can’t help but still be cheerful – ‘to keep fear away until the very last’ (p.950) – commenting on what a Story they’ve been in.
On returning to the Shire, Sam enjoys a long family and community life but because, if only for a short while he’s worn the Ring, legend has it that he’s allowed to sail West-over-Sea to join Frodo and Bilbo for a while before resting. Sam is granted the best of all worlds as his reward for love, endurance and fidelity.